Let’s (not) have a heated debate …

20 Apr

After the political box of frogs that was the UK 2016, here we are in 2017, with a new General Election to look forward to.  Why, I hear you ask?  Well, a dodgy looking economy during and post- Brexit negotiations, a poleaxed major party of opposition, and a 20-point plus poll lead for our so-far-unelected Prime Minister, might go some way to explaining that, alongside a ruling party which needs to be held together with a larger majority, before the going gets too rough …. But what I want to talk about is Theresa’s May’s decision not to take part in a TV leaders’ debate.

Pretty small beer given all of the above you might think.  And some commentators argue that TV debates aren’t really of great interest to many, that they demean serious discussion, that they are traps for leaders to be caught out by a bad camera angle, an slip of the tongue, or – god forbid – an actual  member of the public.  But I’m with Angus Robertson of the SNP who said yesterday in Parliament that it was unsustainable in the 21st century to have a Prime Minister who refuses to face her opponents on television; with Caroline Lucas who argues that with so much currently at stake it is shameful for the Prime Minister to turn away from a medium which reaches many of the ‘unusual suspects’ among voters – notably the young; and, on this occasion, with Jeremy Corbyn who asked the Prime Minister why, if her record is so strong, will she not step up and defend it in a debate?

Theresa May justified her refusal to take part by saying that she would be going around the country talking directly to voters, and that that was what mattered.  But then she also justified her decision to call an election on the grounds that the country was united behind Brexit, but those pesky Westminster opponents were not.  This is hall of mirrors stuff – in fact, as many have pointed out, other parties supported the triggering of Article 50 and have not stood in her way.  Meanwhile, out in the country there remains a range of opinions, hopes and fears about what the negotiations with the EU will hold, and what the outcomes will be for our collective future.  There are also deep concerns on the domestic issues of struggling public services, housing shortages and stagnating wages. By not taking part in a multi-party televised debate the Prime Minister rather looks like someone who wants to avoid or stifle any awkward questions – the exact opposite of acting democratically, which has always been her claim.

And there is another dimension to this: the Prime Minister is a woman, and one who has made a point of her credentials in encouraging other women in her party to stand, and valuing women taking part in political life.  Women in politics are often held to a different standard from men, and face particular obstacles to being taken seriously in debates, and to speaking out in spite of sexist commentary or sometimes overt hostility.  Historians like Mary Beard have pointed to the long timeline of silencing powerful woman.  For a woman in her political prime like Theresa May to shrink from open argument, seems a very poor message to send on female power.

Maybe May herself realises there is some risk and folly in not openly facing her opponents.  For it’s now reported that she would consider other formats, such as a question time session with voters, to be broadcast in the run-up to the election.  That is something – but it still falls short of a debate with opposition which lies at the heart of open democracy – political arguments are active things, they do not speak for themselves, but are shaped in discussion, and through being countered and criticised.  If the Prime Minister is seeking the public’s trust, and is looking to change some minds, she should have the courage to stand up and fight for her views.  Or maybe she just takes her majority for granted …

 

 

Theresa May writes that letter … (with apologies to the Great American Songbook)

28 Mar

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter

And make believe it came from the EU

I’m gonna make deals oh so sweet

They’re gonna knock me off may feet

Same terms as Single Market

I’ll be glad I’ve got them

 

I’m gonna smile and say I’m really feeling sovereign

And sign ‘with love’ the way you do

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter

And make believe it came from the EU

 

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter

And make believe it came from the EU

I’m gonna make deals oh so sweet

They’re gonna knock me off may feet

Falling immigration

Is my aspiration

 

I’m gonna smile and say I’m really feeling sovereign

And sign ‘with love’ the way you do

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter

And make believe it came from the EU

And make believe it came from the EU

 

 

 

For the 100th time …

17 Mar

Hey people, bring out the bunting – this is my 100th blog … Now I know we shouldn’t get too excited, it’s not like it’s Christmas, or even the Queen’s Speech or the budget, but it might just be a call for celebration …

It’s not as if it’s been a mad rush or anything – I first blogged in 2012 – but it’s been something of a revelation.  When I first put blogging finger to keyboard, it was a kind of professional challenge.  After many years of writing for research and policy people, I thought I’d take matters into my own hands, and see what happened if I blogged about the things that interested me for a wider audience.  And I have had a lovely time ….

My background (as regular readers will know) is in stuff to do with gender and policy, and so I joined Mumsnet bloggers network and twitter, and began to publish.  I soon confirmed my suspicion that policy stuff could find readers beyond fellow professionals.  And so, I persisted. If I saw things that inspired me to write, and that I didn’t have an immediate outlet for at work, I’d blog.  And, you know, things just grew from there …. I have a whole load of links, followers and feedback that would never have happened if I hadn’t.

For my 100th blog I thought it would be good to reflect on what has been most popular.  There is, it seems to me, no formula for that: some blogs, you slave over the detail and they never make the mark; others that you write off the cuff work really well.  Sometimes you meet the news agenda to no great avail, others you reflect on something days or weeks later, and it’s a hit.  If I could identify the formula for guaranteed blogging success, I guess I’d be writing this blog from a tropical paradise, not somewhere in England …

When I looked up my Top 5 all-time most popular blogs, I could see elements they had in common.  Most importantly, they were promoted more widely than I could ever achieve alone – if you want an audience, find it through sympathetic hosts, and in online conversations.  Even if there’s a lot of crap out there, I’ve found a twitter community and a supportive platform – I’d like to think that anyone can.

And content-wise, my Top 5 taught me another lesson: for all that I’ve written over the past five years, the apple may not fall far from the tree.  My most popular post is Silicon Valley Chickens and Women’s Eggs – as a wonk married to someone geeky, how technology affects relationships has always been up for discussion ; at number 2, A Cabinet of  Curiosities is all about female representation in politics – a feature of much I’m engaged with professionally and personally; A Post-Truth Christmas Stocking is about the madness of 2016, which we wonks lived through with intensity; number four is Shared Parental Leave, all jacket no bike, including both the wisdom of one of my best friends, and the trouble with the model of shared parental leave we’ve gone for in the UK, which has figured large at work and at home; finally, number 5 is Out of kilt-er, my take on a poorly judged political broadcast in the last Indyref – Wonklifebalance is proudly Celtic ….

And so, I have concluded, your most popular blogs find you – I’ve written many others which looked fit for purpose, even hot to trot. But the very best – decided by readership – all have a wee bit of me inside them. Another lesson may be, that what goes around comes around: my very first blog was about the folly of a new yacht Britannia ….  Thanks everyone for reading, I’ll carry on writing too …. next up blogging 101 😉

 

 

 

 

International Women’s Data

8 Mar

What would I like most for International Women’s Day?  I’d like better data on women’s lives.  Last year Melinda Gates gave the global gender data gap a boost by pledging funds to improve data collection and to set priorities for countries to record information on women’s health, economic and social contributions and their unpaid work.  It may all sound a bit wonky, but how can we set the record straight on women’s rights if we don’t count what women do?

Globally the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give a focus for collecting more and better data on women and girls, and there is a specific goal for gender equality, SDG number 5.  But it is striking how little we know in many areas, and how patchily data on women is collected throughout the world.  A report from 2014 identified key areas where gender data gaps exist, and the main types of data gap – gaps in coverage, gaps in international standards, gaps in complexity, and gaps in granularity (the ability to separate out data on men and women in large datasets).

Among the many topics in health, education, economics, politics and human security, it is quite telling which areas have all 4 types of data gap: employment mobility, agricultural productivity, access to childcare, access to ICT, women’s participation in peace and security processes. All of these areas highlight aspects of the invisibility of women lives – women are much more likely to be in informal employment throughout the world, their activity unrecorded and their ability to transition into formal work unaccounted for.  In agriculture, women’s work may be vital, but hidden in remote places, or beneath the umbrella of household productivity, which doesn’t show which people did what.  Access to childcare is crucial for women’s participation in all activities outside the home, and the fact that there isn’t consistent data, demonstrates both how undervalued childcare can be, and how service provision has not been a major priority in many countries.  Access to ICT is now a crucial part of everyday life, and mobile phones and the internet are transforming services and access to markets in both low and high income countries.  And yet, where there is information on access by gender (e.g. here ) it shows that women are disadvantaged when it comes to connectivity. Finally, women’s participation in peace and security processes has been shown to be crucial in rebuilding post-conflict societies and making settlements last, and yet it may often be overlooked.

So as we look to Make Work Visible on International Women’s Day, let’s remember to record all of women’s contributions to society. Women must be counted when they stand up.

 

A Wonky Valentine

13 Feb

Inspired by the likes of #AcademicValentine I thought it might be time for a policy analyst’s version:

 

Labour is Red

Tories are blue

You should be briefing

And I should be too

 

Lib Dems are Amber

SNP Yellow

Let’s brief them all

Partisanship’s not mellow

 

Greens are self-evident

Purple is UKIP

If we brief the whole House

My heartbeat will skip *

 

 

*I know Welsh and NI

Come in many a shade

And Independents on charts

are usually greyed

And two seats are vacant-

Case yet to be made;

But I’m also aware

Some may find details boring

You could be a wonk’s Valentine

If not currently snoring ….

 

 

Brexit music for a Friday

3 Feb

The other day I could have sworn I read that there was going to be a ‘Hard rock Brexit’ – turns out it was actually ‘rock hard’ – but hey, it got me thinking about Brexit expressed in musical genres, and so a list was born …

 

Hard Rock Brexit: Well if it is ‘rock hard’, clearly nothing by AC/DC, and leaving the Single Market means no Norwegian death metal options, but hopefully our negotiators Are EU Experienced …

Funky Brexit:  Harks back to Parliament – if it all goes pear-shaped can escape in the Mothership …

Punk Brexit:  Feat.  Walking on the Blue Flag Beaches – with street fashion –  think Article 50 bin bag with safety-pinned Amendments

Brexit Musicals:  West Side of Europe Story, Anything Goes incl. ‘I Get a Kick out of EU’ by Coal Importer  (Don’t say The Lady is A Trump)

MOR Brexit: For when sovereignty is More than a Feeling …

Hip Hop Brexit:  Anything by Outkast

Soul Brexit:  What’s Going On? Feat. (Maybe not) Flying high in the Friendly Sky

Happy listening everyone!

Going round in circles …

16 Jan

Mid-January, and it’s Davos time again – the annual pilgrimage of business leaders and heads of state to the summit at the summit of Europe.  Davos, at 5000 ft in the Swiss Alps, is the highest town on the continent, and is the venue for the World Economic Forum jamboree, where big ideas are discussed by day, and big parties held at night.  Davos is the playground of the kind of ‘citizens of nowhere’ so derided in recent political conversations, and embodied in ‘Davos man’, the jetsetting, be-suited thought leader, to be found at the top of corporations, tech start-ups – and even governments.

Given recent political trends, it is perhaps not surprising that Davos is out to present its more caring and open-minded side to the world.  Around a third of attendees, after all, come from civil society organisations and academe.  This makes it all the more surprising that efforts to create a more gender-equal pool of participants has so far resulted in women forming less than a quarter of delegates. No wonder this progress was described as ‘glacial’ in the Guardian, although rumour has it that the side events ‘for wives’ of years gone by, have been shelved ….

Meanwhile, in the world of wider inequalities, WEF is keen to show that the crowd invited is younger  than before, with millennials on board, and that supporters of populist parties in Europe, and of Donald Trump himself, will be there. But since these types include at least one enormously rich man who is already a Davos regular, this may do little to assuage doubters who see it as an elitist talking shop. As Bloomberg note, this year’s overarching theme, ‘Responsive and Responsible leadership’, suggests that Davos man (and the minority of women) may have had cause to think that they themselves could be part of the problem.  There’s a lot of soul-searching about the inequities of globalisation going on in the programme.  With Oxfam unveiling its revamped index of inequality showing that this year 8 – yes just 8 – billionaires now have wealth equivalent to that owned by the lower half – yes half – of the world’s population, it’s no wonder.  Oxfam Britain’s Chief Executive said that this meant that those in control of half the world’s wealth could now squeeze into a golf buggy – it’s a wonder he didn’t say ski lift, but that may have been considered a little too close to the bone.

Over in Fortune magazine I’m told that the ‘circular economy’ is now more than just ‘Davos-speak’.  The ‘circular economy’ refers to processes whereby manufactured goods can be recycled or reused in whole or in part, so as to avoid ending up in landfill, with all the accompanying negative environmental and climate implications.  Every year at Davos a series of awards are handed out for the best initiatives in circular economy innovation.  It occurred to me that this scheme should now be extended to – but inverted – for politics. After years of alleged groupthink, and handing out colour-coded badges to show which ever-decreasing circle of the elite its participants belong to, Davos could take the bull by the horns. The Forum could give out prizes for the best echo chamber-busting innovations to emerge each year  – we all seem to have had enough of circular politics.

 

 

 

 

 

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